A long-awaited progress report on the work of the Small Business Bureau (SBB) including a crucial assessment of the qualitative progress being made by the body in supporting the development of small businesses that were recipients of grants from the Guyana Redd+ fund under the Micro and Small Enterprise Development (MSED) project is likely to be available soon, according to newly appointed Chairperson of the Small Business Council, (SBC) Valrie Grant.
Speaking with Stabroek Business earlier this week about the vision of the newly appointed council for the strengthening of a small business culture in Guyana, Grant said that disclosure regarding the work of the Bureau in the disbursement of grant funding from the US$5 million allocation under the MSED project will focus on grant allocation and on the success stories that have arisen out of the project up until now.
Disclosure regarding the disbursement of the grants, how these have been used and the extent to which the Bureau has been able to monitor the progress of the business ventures being pursued by recipients could put an end to speculation that up until now the project might have fallen below expectations.
Launched in October 2013 by the then president Donald Ramotar the MSED project has remained largely unaccounted for in terms of reports on the outcomes of the grant allocations and training provided by small businesses benefiting from the project. In 2014, it had been announced that the envisaged creation of 2,100 jobs in two years out of the various small business ventures that had benefited from grant funding was no longer possible though no alternative time frames nor job-creation figures had been given.
As the countdown to general elections got underway last year, reports had surfaced that grant funding might have been used as a vote-buying mechanism by the former PPP/Civic administration.
In August this year, the Ministry of Business, under whose purview the implementation of the Small Business Act now falls, announced that it was creating a new SBC, headed by Grant, a Jamaican-born entrepreneur and Managing Director of GeoTechVision Enterprises in Guyana. The SBC, whose primary function will be to oversee the work of the Small Business Bureau (SBB), comprises the Chief Executive Officer of the Bureau as well as representatives of the ministries of Business and Finance, the Linden and Berbice Chambers of Commerce, the Guyana Small Business Association, the Guyana Craft Producers Association, the Institute of Private Enterprise Development, the Guyana Bankers Association and two small business owners.
This week Grant told Stabroek Business that the strengthening of the overall structure for small business development created under the 2004 Small Business Act would include “the significant strengthening of the staff of the Bureau” including the appointment of business development officers, the creation of a Small Business Resource Centre and the creation of industrial liaisons to provide hand-holding support to small businesses.
With the forward movement of the MSED project remaining almost entirely dependent on funding available under the GRIF arrangement, Grant said that the survival of a strong small business support culture would depend heavily on financial support from both government and the private sector. In the latter regard, she said the SBC will be seeking to work more closely with local financial institutions in order to secure a greater measure of support for small business development. Advocating that the local commercial banking sector move to adopt a less risk-averse posture, Grant said the SBC, “will be seeking to sell financial institutions, including commercial banks the value of coming on board with the Small Business Council to create a firm foundation for the growth of small businesses. Banks need to be educated if they are to shift from their current risk-averse position.”
And according to the new SBC Chairperson the creation of a local development bank will be critical to the longer-term consolidation of the small business sector. “The absence of a development bank means that a big piece of the puzzle relating to the creation of a strong small business infrastructure is missing,” Grant said.
Meanwhile, she says, a national entrepreneurship strategy that focuses on the creation of a strong regulatory environment is also critical to the strengthening of the country’s small business sector. That strategy, she says, should focus on, among other things, education and skills development, technical exchange and innovation, access to financing and awareness and networking. She disclosed that the SBC had set itself the task of creating a draft outline of such a strategy within a month with the completed strategy likely to be realized within one year.